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Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

The Gap That Keeps on Growing: How Pay Inequity Affects Black Women, Families and Communities

Pay Inequity

Sept. 21 marks this year’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the point on the calendar when Black women’s income finally catches up with what their white male counterparts were paid in the year prior. The commemoration falls six months after the general Equal Pay Day, demonstrating just how deep pay inequity is between women and men. (Native Women’s Equal Pay Day falls on Nov. 30 this year while Latina Women’s Equal Pay Day isn’t until Dec. 8.)

TriplePundit spoke with leadership consultant and author Arika L. Pierce about the significance of commemorating the day, the effect the pay gap has on Black women and their families, and what businesses need to do to rectify the problem.

“It’s an important day to shed light that this is still a significant issue,” Pierce told us. “The data shows Black women are still underpaid compared to their white male counterparts.” This is in spite of the fact that Black women are enrolling in college and earning degrees at a rate that is quickly making them one of the highest educated demographic groups in the country. While they make up about 7 percent of the total U.S. population, Black women earned 10.9 percent of the doctorates awarded in 2018 and 2019, 14.7 percent of master’s degrees and 11.4 percent of baccalaureates. Yet, as Pierce pointed out, advances in compensation aren’t happening. “The pay gap is getting worse, not better.”

As a group, American women saw the pay inequity gap shrink in 2021 — enough so that Equal Pay Day came nine days earlier this year. But not everyone benefited from the bump. Black, Latina and Native American women all lost wages. This year, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day won’t come until more than a month and a half later than it did in 2021.

What’s particularly infuriating is that the pay inequity gap actually increases for Black women under the circumstances that should be bringing them premium pay: age, education and professional attainment. Between the ages of 16 and 24, as they enter the workforce, Black girls and women are paid 19 percent less than their white male counterparts. But by the time they reach the 55 and over category, the wage gap grows to 39 percent. Likewise, earning a degree is only worth 64 to 65 cents on the dollar for Black women — whereas those who did not complete high school still earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar received by white males with the same educational level. The lowest pay gap coincides with jobs that require the least education and experience. Between Black female and white male cashiers, for example, it sits at 13 percent. But white male nurses make a quarter more than Black female nurses, and for those in management, the gap is a whopping 32 percent.

Over the course of her career, the average Black woman loses out on almost a million dollars due to the pay gap. In discussing how this dynamic has an impact on the wealth gap, Pierce said, “Obviously how much we earn directly equates to how we live and what we can put back in our communities.” She described fair wages and wealth as the link that feeds opportunity, beginning with where families are able to reside and how that affects important issues like whether their children attend quality, well-funded schools, or even whether they are able to drink the local water. Furthermore, when their parents’ work is undervalued and underpaid, children have fewer opportunities than their peers who benefit from the trickle-down effects of privilege.

Whereas less than half of white women are breadwinners for their families, around 75 percent of Black women carry that burden — on top of earning less for full-time work. The burden isn’t just financial either. “It’s extremely frustrating,” Pierce said. “Just being aware of disparities, especially with intersectionality.”

“We can’t ever let our guard down,” she explained further. “There’s no failing forward.” She described the burnout that comes from being paid less to work harder and how Black women feel as though they have to do it all. “There’s an emotional toll being in corporate organizations that actually were not created for us.”

In the next article of this two-part series, Pierce discusses the structural causes behind pay inequity and what companies need to do to fix it. After all — “We put so much into our work, equal compensation is a no-brainer.”

Image credit: Christina Morillo via Pexels

Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop. 

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